Last summer, when I became more interested in feeding my family quality food including organic produce, I started looking for reasonable options.  My research led me to CSAs, but by the time I learned about them, they were all sold out for the season.  For those who don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically, you pay the farmer up front for a portion of the produce the farm will produce.  In return, you get fresh produce for 18 to 22 weeks during the summer and fall.

This year, I started my search early so I would not be left out as I was last year.  I talked to several people I know around the U.S. who have CSAs, but most of them only had a few CSAs to choose from.

In our location in an urban area in the Midwest, there were easily 15 CSAs to choose from.  Overwhelmed by the choices, my husband and I created a list of qualities we were looking for in a CSA.

    • Pick up location.  All of the CSAs had pick up locations within 10 to 40 minutes of our house, but we don’t have a lot of time to spend weekly driving to pick up our produce, and we also didn’t want to use gas unnecessarily.  We decided to look only at those CSAs that offered delivery in a neighboring town and would take us less than 10 minutes to get to.  That cut out about ¼ of the available CSAs
    • Variety of fruits and vegetables.  Most of the CSAs we found only offered vegetable shares.  We wanted fruits and vegetables, so we eliminated any farms that did not also offer fresh fruit as part of the share.  That eliminated about 2/3rds of the remaining farms.
    • Share size.  Each farm offered a different share size.  We wanted the biggest one possible for our family of five.  Choices ranged from ½ bushel weekly to ¾ bushel weekly.  We focused on those offering ¾ bushel weekly.
    • Number of weeks shares will be delivered.  Many farmers offered a variety of share durations from 10 weeks to 22 weeks.  Most were for 18 to 22 weeks, so we focused on those farms that had 22 week shares as we wanted fresh, local, organic produce for as long as possible.
    • Discount for early purchase.  Many farmers, but not all, offered a percentage off the overall price for customers who bought by March 1st.  We only focused on those farms offering an early bird discount.
    • Price.  While we understand that a farmer has to pay quite a bit to run a farm, we were surprised that the plans could vary by several hundred dollars over the season, even though other factors such as bushel size and number of weeks in the CSA were the same.  While we didn’t pick the cheapest plan, we picked one that was fairly low cost and met all of our above criteria.

Making a check list of services and produce that we wanted helped us pick our first CSA.  I will keep you updated throughout the summer as to what produce we receive and if we are happy with what we get.

If you are interested in a CSA, you still have time to sign up for one, though many are starting to fill.  A good place to begin your search is  Obviously, growing your own garden is the cheapest option for local, organic produce, but if that is not an option for you due to space limitations, or time restraints, or a simple lack of interest, a CSA may be for you.

Photo courtesy of comprock via Flickr.

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